Neil Patel

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How to Fail-Proof Your Ad Campaigns with These 7 Headline Formulas


PPC campaigns aren’t a “set it and forget it” type of thing.

Good ad campaigns are tough to create. I know, I’ve created a lot of them.

You have to squeeze all the benefits of your product or service into 20 characters or less.

That means your ads need to pack a punch. Your ad’s headline is the first line of defense.

Why would someone click to read more of your ad if the ad itself sucks?

Or why would they bother finding out what’s on your page?

Your landing page could be amazing. But if the ad isn’t good, nobody’s clicking through to see it.

A good headline will improve your PPC ad viewability and CTRs. A bad headline (or even a mediocre one) will keep people scrolling past.

Whether you’re buying ads on Google or you’re advertising on Facebook, having a solid headline can make or break your conversions.

The trick is that you should never write ads from scratch. You can’t afford to get this part wrong.

Instead, you should stick to proven formulas that have worked and will continue to work.

Here are some of my favorite headline formulas that will make your ads irresistible.

1. Name a problem and solve it

Jon Morrow is a king when it comes to writing headline copy.

His headline hacks are a lesson in attention-getting. Inside his cheat sheet, you’ll find dozens of amazing headline templates that he’s spent years crafting.

image 36

My favorite part is that he goes into detail with each one. So you know exactly why it works and how to use it immediately.

AdWords ads can easily follow the structure Jon uses. Especially when using his “Zen” template.

The idea is fairly straightforward.

People have anxiety about certain events or triggers in their life. Think about your own life for a second.

There might be a ton of work stuff on your mind. You might have to rush kids around later this afternoon.

That stress can eat away at your subconscious all day. You might not even realize it’s there. But it’s there, trust me.

This headline formula recognizes those problems.

However, it will absolve you of them. Your product or service resolves those fears.

The formula is pretty simple: name the problem + solve the problem.

Take this example from 17hats:

17hats FB ad example 1

The first sentence outlines the problem: your business is time consuming.

Then the headline repeats this with “Tame the Chaos of Running Your Business…”

They finally solve the problem at the very end by showing how 17hats can take your business burdens away.

Some of my other favorite examples from Headline Hacks include:

  • How to Take Charge of Your (unruly problem)
  • Get Rid of (recurring problem) Once and for All
  • 10 Shortcuts for (completing tedious process) in Record Time
  • Here’s a Quick Way to Get Over (problem)
  • Here is a Method That is Helping (audience) (solve problem)
  • Can’t Keep Up? XX Ways to Simplify Your (blank)

The key is to speak to an emotion.

You can use these templates verbatim. Or you can come up with new headlines that speak to the same underlying worries.

What fears does your audience have? What are they already experiencing as the result of not having your service or product?

Find that out first. Then use one of these “Zen” headlines to speak directly to it.

2. Target the people around your location

There are thousands of attorneys out there.

The competition is incredible. And most of them are competing for the same few customers in a specific city or metro area.

If they tried to run ads on a massive keyword like “attorney,” they would face stiff competition. Not to mention, extremely expensive ads.

Instead, they’d be better off targeting local traffic.

For example, if I type “auto accident attorney seattle” into Google, I get this result:

image 35

It does two things well.

The first is the use of social proof in the headline. Avvo is a respectable directory that shares attorney ratings.

The fact that they have a 10 out of 10 rating means you can trust them.

The second is the use of the location, “Seattle,” in the ad copy.

Even though it’s not directly in the headline, it still shows up in bold because it was one of the search terms.

If you’re the searcher, in this case, that would immediately jump out at you.

Local ads are also powerful because they’re starting to show up in new places.

For example, Google’s local results section is also changing. Check out where new ads are showing up:

image 37

Imagine if you were looking for this on your phone. The first result is an ad.

So even though it doesn’t use the word “Seattle” anywhere, it’s picking up my location and giving me the perfect result on the first try.

This keyword + location structure is extremely common for location-based businesses wanting to improve CTR.

And even if your business doesn’t deal directly with one location, you can still optimize different ads to target different locations.

For example, I was traveling recently and saw this Facebook ad from WeWork come across my newsfeed:


You can run several ad campaigns around major cities to nab some of those location-based results.

3. Keep it simple with the primary benefit

AdWords ads should feature the keyword somewhere in the headline. You know that much.

But inserting the keyword also makes it a challenge to write an interesting headline.

Your ad text becomes highly dependent on the keyword. There’s not a lot of extra room to add anything else.

One way to get around this issue is to figure out which stage of the buyer’s journey your searcher is in.

Take this example from Weebly:


This speaks to the buyer who realizes they already want a website. But they’re just not sure how to get started.

The ad answers their questions in just a few words.

You can also do this with Google AdWords.

If I type in “how to build a website,” I get these results:


Right away, the first two ads are answering my question. I can build a website using Wix or Squarespace.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. You can take advantage of the simple headline without using keywords at all on Facebook.

Here’s a great example from Outdoor Voices:



They’re pants made for working out, but they also make you look good while doing it.


They zero in on the primary benefit or value proposition of their product. And more importantly, they don’t clutter it up with a bunch of other text that only distracts the user.

People know immediately why their product is valuable. So it works without keywords.

On AdWords, including keywords will get you better results.

Your basic headline formula should work like this: keyword + benefit.

Going back to our earlier search example, it looks like this:


Some other examples would be:

  • Create a Stunning Website for Free (Wix).
  • Don’t Wait. Start Building Your Free Website Today.
  • Anyone Can Build a Website with [Our Company].

If you want to kick this concept up a notch, you can also use the “Who Else Wants…” strategy:

  • Who Else Wants to Build a Great Website?
  • Who Else Wants a Better Website Without the Hassle?
  • Who Else Wants a Killer Website?

These headlines state an obvious benefit while still hitting keywords. They even add some social proof to put this ad over the top.

4. Appeal to their greatest need with a “how-to”

The “how-to” headline is popular for a reason.

Most of us need improvements in our lives in some way or another.

But most of us don’t know how to improve ourselves.

The “how-to” appeals to that reality on a deep psychological level. It answers a question before it’s even asked.

Here’s the general formula: how to + keyword.

For example, “How to generate leads for a small business.”

The goal is to highlight either the process or the final result (or both).

In this first example by Audience Ops, you can see the process (pinpointing topics) but not the result:


The final result is implied but not outrightly stated. You know you’re going to improve your blog content. But there might be other benefits as well.

In the second example, the focus is on the final result (conversions):


This second one is a more successful example, in my mind.

It highlights the need and makes you curious about the process.

Here are some other examples of how-to headlines you could use in your ad campaigns:

  • How to Stop Procrastinating and Improve Productivity
  • How to Turn Your Idea Into a Million-Dollar Business
  • How to Talk to Your Angriest Customers Without Losing Them
  • How to Write the Highest-Performing AdWords Ads

You can also mix it up without explicitly saying “how-to”:

  • Little Known Ways to Hack Google’s Gmail
  • How I Built an Online Business in Just 3 Days
  • A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected Content

You just want to answer the question “How do I do this?” as clearly as possible.

5. Compare yourself to the competition

This is called the “How does (insert other company’s name here) compare to us?” formula.

It’s designed to pit you against your competitor.

Except it does the comparison on your own terms. You can control the conversation.

For example, if I search for Kissmetrics, the first ad that comes up is from Heap Analytics.


If I click on the ad, it brings me to a comparison page:


If you scroll down the same Google results page a little bit, you’ll find more… aggressive ads.


MixPanel has been going after Kissmetrics for years.

In some search cases, they actually appear at the top of the page instead of the bottom, so you know they’re targeting the “Kissmetrics” brand-name keyword.

Here’s another example from a different company in the social commerce space.

Bazaarvoice is a competitor for PowerReviews. Guess what shows up when you search for them?


They use the formula more succinctly: “How Does (my brand) Compare? – More (benefits) for Less.”

Instead of starting with an original ad, they’re working backward.

They know they have competition. So they include their competitors in their keywords.

It’s brilliant.

When it comes to search results, half the work is already done for them.

And they tap into a market that is curious about alternatives to some commonly-known products.

6. Overcome objections with third-party testimonials

Your potential customers have concerns about your business.

Do you offer free shipping?

What do you provide that your competitors don’t?

What’s the real value that you offer?

Ads can help alleviate those concerns, especially if you make that the purpose of your campaign.

Take this example from makeup company Glossier:


They’re actually doing two really smart things here.

One, they’re answering a common concern about their product right in the headline of the link.

Two, they’re giving a testimonial.

And that testimonial headline can do two things for you:

  • It presents your reader with a third-party endorsement of your product or service.
  • It capitalizes on the nature of people liking to know what other people say.

Write your headlines in the first person and put quotation marks around it.

This “virtual testimonial” improves readership and makes your headline more interesting.

Other retail companies like Stitch Fix do this all the time with their ads:


The benefits they get are obvious — free shipping and no subscription required.

But you get the bonus of word-of-mouth marketing.

More than that, you get testimonials that overcome objections.

It’s a double whammy of effectiveness.

7. Ask questions, and then provide the solution

Questions are another popular way to grab attention without sounding too “sales-y.”

I do it all the time. Here’s one example from Facebook:

Neil patel facebook ad example 1

They work because people have questions.

They’re also hardwired to want those questions answered. That’s why search exists.

If you can show that you’re also asking those questions — and, more importantly, that you have answers — your ads will be far more engaging.

We’ve touched on this a few times already.

The problems and questions are already there in the back of their minds. You just need to bring them to the forefront.

Of course, there’s more to the strategy than just asking a question.

It follows this typical formula: question + solution.

But there are caveats to this approach.

Take a look at Asana’s ad, for instance:

Asana Facebook ad example 1

They’re starting with a few presumptions. They assume that the people who are seeing this ad use a messaging solution at work.

Right off the bat, they’re targeting specific kinds of users. For example, this ad works perfectly for knowledge workers in an office.

However, it wouldn’t resonate the same way for people out in the field all day.

Then, Asana turns up the dial by essentially asking, “But do you have a great messaging solution?”

The answer is… maybe? Now you’re not so sure.

Unless I’m already asking that oddly-specific question, I’m probably not going to click the ad.

A better solution would be to say something like, “Does your messaging system help you collaborate? Ours does.”

This asks a much broader question while also providing an immediate answer.

Some other examples of this might be headlines like:

  • “Are You Paying Too Much For Your Car Insurance? How to Tell”
  • “Can You Write a Headline Like this One?”
  • “Want to Know How to Increase Your Conversions? I’ll Tell You”

Soylent does this by asking an FAQ question directly in their ad:

Soylent facebook ad example 1

You have to click the link to find out the answer, but it’s a question people are obviously asking.

A good thing to keep in mind when coming up with questions for your ad is Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

The law states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

You want to phrase questions in such a way that the answer will be, “Yes, tell me more.”

Don’t leave things open ended.

Don’t ask rhetorical questions.

If people can answer with a simple “no,” they’re never going to click through to find out more.

If you’re unsure if your question will work, don’t start with a question.

Use one of the other headline formulas on the list instead.

Your end goal is always the same. You want to identify what’s bothering people and figure out how to fix it for them faster, better, and cheaper than anyone else.


Your headline is your ultimate selling point.

If in doubt, keep it simple.

Focus on keywords and phrases that you know your audience wants. Ask questions you know they’re already asking.

Keep ads relevant by focusing on the location they’re searching for or the day-to-day work they’re already doing.

Offer up tangible benefits that tell them why they should click your ad.

What ads have you seen that made you want to click right away?

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